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Gardening Question of the Day

I have a honeysuckle plant that was doing well until the leaves started to look as if they were sprinkled with white powder. Any suggestions?

Sounds like powdery mildew. We would need to know more about the environment around the plant and the recent weather to know for sure. You can treat powdery mildew with a natural fungicide such as sulfur spray. You should clean up the area around the plant to allow better air circulation and dry it out. It's also important to get rid of infected stems.

Last 7 Days

    Now that the holiday season is upon us, do you have any advice regarding the best way to prolong the life of a cut evergreen Christmas tree? Is there any special solution I should place in the tree stand?

    The first thing you should do to ensure that your tree will last through the holidays is to buy a freshly cut one from a reputable nursery or cut your own. Many of the trees for sale were cut weeks before. If there are lots of needles on the ground around the trees, go elsewhere. Once you get your tree home, saw a couple of inches off the bottom of the trunk. When trees are cut, pitch oozes out and seals the pores. By sawing off the base, you will open up the pores, and the tree will be able to absorb water. Indoors, keep the tree away from heating ducts. In fact, the lower the temperature, the better the tree will do. Fill the tree stand with water and keep it filled; don't allow all the water to evaporate. One old Vermonter we knew always packed his tree stand with well-watered soil and planted the tree in the mixture. The soil should be kept wet. Some people add aspirin or sugar to the water; we can't say whether either helps. Again, water is the vital element.

    What cuttings can I take that will bloom in time for Christmas?

    Try taking cuttings from your lilac or hawthorn bushes by December 6 and they should bloom for Christmas. Keep them in vases of fresh, room temperature water.

    What are the best ways to preserve and store potatoes during the winter? I stored them in the basement on a rack, but they all sprouted a few months later.

    Perhaps your basement is too warm. The storage area should be cold, but not below 35 degrees Fahrenheit; the ideal is 35 to 40 degrees. It should also be completely dark. Potatoes should be harvested before the first frost, preferably on a warm day. Cloudy days are ideal, since too much light will cause newly dug potatoes to turn green. Their skins should be tough enough that you cannot rub them off with your finger. Clean and dry (but do not wash) the potatoes, and store them as quickly as possible, with little or no exposure to sunlight, in baskets or barrels. If there is a danger of freezing, keep a pail of cold water nearby. They need a humid atmosphere, but if it's too moist, they will sprout.

    Will the cyclamen plant come back every year? Is it a perennial or an annual?

    Cyclamen is a tuberous perennial. In warmer climates (Zones 6-9), it may be planted in the ground and will reappear every year. In colder areas of Zone 6, it may be wise to add an extra layer of mulch to protect it from harsh temperatures during the winter. In colder areas, such as Zone 5 and North, cyclamen can be planted outdoors in either pots or directly in the ground, but the pots or tubers should be brought indoors in the fall. Otherwise, the cold temperatures will kill the plant. If it is brought indoors, it can be treated like a houseplant during the winter and then brought outside in the spring.

    Is there an organic way to get rid of aphids on my roses?

    The easiest way to get rid of aphids is to hit the bugs with a strong spray of plain water. They are not strong crawlers, and once you knock them to the ground, they will die before they make it back up the stem of the plant. Look under the leaves and stems for early accumulations. Releasing beneficial insects that eat aphids is another way to control aphids. Keep in mind that, to keep beneficials around, you will have to tolerate the presence of some aphids. Otherwise the good bugs will not have anything to eat. There isn't much of a way to keep aphids from getting on your roses - after all, its what they do. Just plan to come out every two to three days with the hose, and wash those bugs right off. If you want to get a little stronger, use an insecticidal soap. This product, like water, will need to be used whenever you see an infestation.

    How can I make sure my indoor, tropical hibiscus plant gets enough light through the winter?

    You can provide your hibiscus with artificial lighting from a standard florescent tube light, hung about 5 feet above it. Put the light on a timer and have it on 16 hours per day. The plant should develop leaves that are deep green and healthy as a result. They should also produce flowers every week or so. Depending upon your climate, you should then be able to move the plant outdoors come summer.

    We've just moved into a new home, and the yard is overrun with bamboo. Is there anything we can do (besides just yanking the plants out) to get rid of it?

    If you have a patch of bamboo that you want to get rid of, cut the stalks about a foot above the ground and clear away the cuttings. Fill a plastic pail roughly one-quarter full of rock salt. Fill the rest of the pail with boiling water and stir well. Pour the hot mixture into the hollow stalks. Wait a week, then dig out the bamboo stalks and roots. You may need to repeat the process. It's tough to dig out a complete bamboo root, but this way you know you've killed the plant.

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